Having a Fighting Faith

When I was growing up, there were a few people in my church that everyone knew had something special in their spiritual life. I remember specifically Miss Juanita. I don’t really remember much about her other than that at the time that I knew her she was who you went to if you wanted someone to pray for you. Everyone knew that if someone was going to actually intercede for you, she was the one who would do it without fail. You also knew that her prayers got answered.

I remember that Miss Juanita didn’t have a whole lot and that if she had had a husband he was no longer in her life. She had few local family members and a small, older home. But, we all knew that she had a faith in the Lord that was unshakable.

So how does someone get a reputation like Miss Juanita? How does anyone achieve a faith so strong that others are drawn to it? How does anyone look so much like Christ that people actively ask for intercession with God? How can you have a faith that is unshakable, a faith that holds you together in the face of tragedy, a faith that fights?

Discipline.

When I think of discipline, I often think of punishment before I think of anything else. Fortunately, this is a limited view of what discipline really is. Punishment is a form of discipline, but it is the form that comes from without. This form can help steer someone towards a right path, but true and lasting changes come from within.

Lasting changes are ones created by taking hold of external truths and pursuing them with fervor and tenacity from your inner self. This is what’s known as self discipline. This means that discipline, or self discipline, is not something you have, but rather something that you do. Also, it’s not something done for the sake of itself but for the realization of the goal or purpose for which you grasp. In other words, discipline is the process or tool that you use to bring about the change that you seek.

Once, I thought this meant drudgery. I used to think that self discipline meant that I had to stop having fun so I could go and do the work that Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthian church: “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:27‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Paul is correct in his assessment of self discipline, but I was incorrect in my interpretation. Terry Crews once said, “why do you hate discipline? It’s just training!” If discipline is just training, then that means that I can take part and exercise in spiritual training.

Thinking of the spiritual disciplines this way lets me move on from the thoughts of punishment and into a healthy understanding of Paul’s message. It also puts perspective on what Paul means when he says “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” ‭‭(1 Timothy‬ ‭4:7-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Training myself in spiritual discipline let’s me become more godly. If I must put off my sinful nature, then to do so can only come by putting on a nature of righteousness. However, since I am surrounded in what Paul describes as a body of death, I can do no such thing. So what then can I do?

Amy Cuddy puts it this way, “Fake it till you become it.” Jeff Haden says that you should change your language from “I can’t” to “I don’t” so that you no longer have a choice to make but an identity to fulfill. Paul’s advice is, instead of being a slave to your sinful nature, become a slave to Christ. That is, assume the identity of one who is righteous and do what they do. Before long, you will be more like one who is righteous. Before long, you will become like Miss Juanita, so strong in faithfulness that others come to you for prayer and guidance, not for your own virtue but by the virtue of the One who is inside you.

In my next post, I will begin describing the disciplines of the spiritual life. These exercises will help to train your faith so that it can stand up and fight when the world is doing it’s best to defeat you.

Why is Judaism important to Christians??

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past 20 years, it’s that I am assuredly not Jewish. I am neither Jewish by nationality, nor am I Jewish by religion. These seem like obvious facts, and they are. However, Judaism and the Hebrew nation are extraordinarily important to Christians. The two, more than any other religions, share a deep and common foundation. The only problem is that many (if not most) Jews disagree with this claim.

This disagreement comes to a point primarily with the identity of the man called Jesus of Nazareth. Evidence of this disagreement is apparent in the gospels long before Jesus was crucified. While Jesus was performing his ministry throughout Judea and Galilee, he rarely had a moment without some heat from the local religious authorities. The vehemence and vitriol surrounding the controversy was exacerbated when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time and his body mysteriously disappeared from his tomb. Since then the divisions have grown and solidified, becoming a wall with a narrow gate that only a few go between.

A Troubling Message

Christian scripture includes two testaments, conveniently known as the Old and the New.  The Christian Old Testament includes the entirety of Jewish scripture which was concluded approximately four hundred years before Jesus walked the earth.

This tells us one very important thing about Christians: we believe that our religion is a continuation of the Jewish religion.

That’s right, our Gospel is the Jewish Gospel. Everything that Christians believe is based off of everything that the Hebrew people wrote as scripture. Without God selecting Abraham and establishing the covenant to make him the father of a great nation, Christians would not be here.

If Christians believe that they practice Judaism 2.0 then they have to be getting this notion from somewhere. This idea of Christianity being the continuation is taught in several forms throughout the new testament but one specific occasion really heats things up for us and points to why people like me are concerned with Judaism.

In the book of Matthew, right before Jesus was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death, he told a story to the chief priest and elders about some tenants and a wealthy landowner. The landowner had a large and fertile plot. This plot was an investment for him but he needed to take care of other matters. In the mean time, the land needed to produce income for him so he hired some tenants to produce a crop. In their contract, the tenants would get a place to live and money and food to live on so long as they sent the agreed upon portion of the profits back to the landowner.

Unfortunately for the landowner, the tenants did not keep their end of the bargain. At the appointed time the landowner sent some of his men to collect his portion, but the tenants abused them, murdering one, beating another, and attempting to kill the third. The landowner had cause to seize his land at this point, but being merciful he sent another round of servants, more this time than the last. Again, the tenants abused the landowner’s men and killed a few, totally disregarding the contract and disrespecting their benefactor’s wishes.

Finally, the landowner, still filled with mercy, sent his own son as representative for him. The son would go and collect the debt owed to the landowner as his family member and personal envoy. Surely, the tenants would realize how serious the landowner was this time since he sent his son. Again, the tenants were filled with disdain for their benefactor and jealousy over his possessions. They took his son and murdered him.

Jesus pauses here and asks his listeners what they think happens next. The elders respond:

 “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus then says a peculiar thing. He brings up a piece of the Psalms in response the the chief priests.

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’”?

Seeing the looks of confusion in their eyes and the question on their lips, Jesus explains what his means.

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

So this is where Jesus identifies two things:

  1. The elders and the chief priest are the builders. They were the tenants sent to prepare a harvest for their generous landowner.
  2. People like me will inherit the landowner’s property instead.

As you can tell, this is highly inflammatory. If Jesus is the Son of God as he identifies himself elsewhere, then he is the stone that the builders rejected and he is the one who will crush them. Jesus became that for Christians and we are broken at his feet. For Christians, Jesus is the cornerstone of the religion. Without him, the whole thing crumbles and we are all fools. However, this means that the kingdom of heaven was taken from the Hebrew patriarchs.

This is really unfortunate for someone whose identity is based on God selecting their forefathers to make a nation that will last forever.

Hope For the Future

Fortunately, this is not where the story ends.

In my last post, we talked about the primary differentiator between covenants and contracts which is that covenants, once established, never pass away. Before the New Covenant (which forms the premise of the New Testament), there were several covenants God made with his people. The good news for Hebrew people is that all of these covenants are still in effect. That means that all of God’s promises, including the fact that there will always be a remnant, will come to pass. It also means that through the Hebrew people, all of the nations are blessed.

If Jesus is who he says he is, then Christianity provides answers to the covenants that many Jews are still waiting to be fulfilled. Through Him, the nation of Israel gets to lay claim to the best of all claims. They are, in fact, the people of the promise, and I am only grafted in to that blessing.

The book of Acts and later the book of Hebrews demonstrate and explain this truth in depth. One of the most important messages of Acts is that that the Gospel is first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. The pattern of Acts demonstrates this truth. The first portion of the book is dedicated to the spread of the Gospel throughout Israel. Then the Gospel is spread to the Jews outside of Judea and then to the Gentiles. Hebrews then goes on to explain to the Jewish people the meaning of the Gospel according to the history of the Hebrew nation.

If anything is clear, the Gospel came first to the Jewish nation and then through them. This is good news, both in that it restores the identity of the chosen people and that Gentiles like me can share a heritage with them.

Are you a Legalist? (Part 2)

In my last post, I discussed two ends of a spectrum for how people relate to the Law: Legalism vs. Antinomianism. The two positions pose the question “What do we do with the Law?” and then go about answering it through one of two methods: either total and zealous obedience which risks missing the point of the Law entirely or lack of regard to the importance of the Law exhibited through total disobedience. That Law, which is the set of holy ordinances handed down to Moses and then to the Hebrew people, has been a highly debated issue amongst Christian thinkers for almost two thousand years.

To avoid the traps of legalism and antinomianism we need to understand the concept of biblical covenants.  Effectively, a covenant works like a contract. However, unlike a contract, once a covenant exists it never passes away. Regardless of whether either of the parties holds up their end of the agreement both parties continue to be responsible to their obligations should a violation occur. Since God is always faithful and true, this means only one side of the covenant is likely to fail (Hint: it’s ours).

Throughout history, there have been a series of these covenants between man and God, forming the backbone of the religions of Judaism and Christianity as well as the cultural identity of Israel and the Jewish nationality. For this post, I will focus on just two covenants, though the rest are intricately linked to them.

First in order is the Mosaic Covenant. This is the covenant that resulted in both the formation of the Hebrew nation as well as the establishment of the Law. With this covenant, God performed a decisive move in upholding his previous covenant with Abram to make him into a great nation. He also delivered to His people a strong and lasting revelation of who He is through the Law and the covenant rituals. Finally, God established once and for all that there is good and there is evil. Failure to keep the terms of the covenant was proof of the evil living within the hearts men.

Second in order is what we call the New Covenant. This covenant is the one ushered in by Jesus’ work on Earth and reveals to us the grace of God. The Mosaic Covenant had quite a bit of language about what would happen to those who failed to uphold its words. This is what led entire sects of Jewish zealots (the Legalists) to seek perfection in keeping the commands of God. The New Covenant showed us that it is not by works, but by grace that we are saved. This then led to the people (the Antinomians) totally ignoring the Law and living as they pleased since salvation has been accomplished for us. We know that neither approach is correct, so we still have to figure out how to relate to the Law.

Remember the rules of a covenant? The covenant remains in tact regardless of whether one of the parties keeps their end of the deal. The New Covenant acts as a wraparound covenant, where in the owner pays the debt for the former and now owns a new debt from the debtor. In Jesus, the debt for the Mosaic covenant was paid. God, in his goodness, knew that man had no hope of upholding their end of the agreement. He clothed Himself in flesh and became a man in order to fulfill man’s side of the agreement for him leaving us a spectators as He works out our salvation for us.

Today the Mosaic covenant remains as a testimony against us, showing us just how far short of acceptable we are. However, the good news of the Gospel is that all God really wants from us is our love and worship. He is willing to go to great lengths to demonstrate His love for us and asks only that we turn from our sins and worship Him alone. Jesus even instructs us on how we can show God that we love him:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. -John 14:15 (ESV)

The Bible is full of God’s commands, so what is Jesus saying here if man cannot save himself through Law? Jesus goes on in John 14 to describe how God the Father will send a helper, The Holy Spirit, to remind us of his commands and all the things that Jesus has done. The Holy Spirit will help us to relate to theLaw properly and rely on God to do the impossible, which is to save man through the fulfillment of His covenants. In order to cure ourselves from legalism, we have to accept the good news that Jesus did the work for us. If we glorify God through repentance and worship, then we will do what he says, not out of requirement but out of love for him and an outpouring of our faith in him. Finally, through the steady and faithful work of the Holy Spirit, we will show our love for the Father through the evidence of keeping His commands, first through loving God and second through loving our neighbor as our self.

When we trust God and leave the work of salvation to him, the Law is no longer a testimony against us. It then becomes a revelation of who God is. Through the Law, we can know Him. We can know how He thinks, what He likes, and the things that He values. Through the Law, we can revel in His glory, in awe that He has accomplished what we cannot. This is the cure for Legalism, loving God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. All else will be added to you.

How can a young person stay pure?

By obeying your word.

I have tried hard to find you—

don’t let me wander from your commands.

I have hidden your word in my heart,

that I might not sin against you.

I praise you, O LORD

teach me your decrees.

I have recited aloud

all the regulations you have given us.

I have rejoiced in your laws

as much as in riches.

I will study your commandments

and reflect on your ways.

I will delight in your decrees

and not forget your word.

~Psalm 119:9-16 (NLT)

Are you a Legalist? (Part 1)

Have you ever heard of someone saying that someone else was being “legalistic”? Have you ever said it yourself about a friend or acquaintance? This word, legalism, is probably one of Christianity’s favorite insults or judgments to bandy about. For many, it’s an easy way to put a name to behaviors they don’t agree with, particularly when someone seems to be overly committed to piety. Or, to avoid the trap of legalism, we might say, “Well, I guess I could do [blank] because I wouldn’t want to be legalistic.”

But what is legalism?

I recently heard a definition for it on the radio that sort of makes sense, though it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. The speaker said that “legalism” is the separation of the Law from the God who gave the Law. In my own words, this would be a form of idolatry, where the Law becomes the object of worship and means of salvation rather than God. This is a very natural thing to do. It’s easy too!

We don’t have to try very hard to head down this road, especially when we’re trying to do our best to please the God who loves us. When the almighty, good and loving father tells us to do or not to do something, it makes sense for us to then take that rule and place safeguards around it. If God says, “I don’t want you to have any cookies after dinner.” You might then say, “If God doesn’t want me to have any cookies after dinner, then I will just not touch the cookie jar after 4pm.” This is logical. Since dinner usually happens somewhere between 5 and 9pm, you can’t possibly have any cookies after dinner with your new rule.

But where God gave you one rule, now you have two. Soon, you might ask, “what did God mean when he said no cookies after dinner? Was he saying no dessert? Or was he saying nothing sweet?” To be safe, you decide that he really meant you can’t have dessert. Also, just to be safe, you decide that the cranberry walnut vinaigrette that you were looking forward to on your salad might also be considered dessert if you were to include all things sweet. You might then decide that cookies are a form of bread so baked goods are also entirely stricken from the table. Eventually, you might think that since the cookie jar is in the kitchen, you have to stay away from the kitchen altogether because, in your preparation for dinner and cleaning up after, you might accidentally bump into it and break our second rule, which is to not touch the cookie jar after 4pm.

What have we ended up with in order to avoid having cookies after dinner is a complete ban on dinner and reduced access to one of your favorite rooms in the house. This is legalism, and it’s not at all what God was asking for.

When God set forth the Law, he made a good start with the Ten Commandments. In fact, as Jesus explains in the New Testament, God’s first two commandments should have been enough since all of the rest of the Law and the Prophets are wrapped up in them. It was man who asked, “But… how??” and was subsequently terrified by the answer. The remainder of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, after God hands down the 10 commandments to the Hebrew people, is full of the explanation and expansion of the Law. This portion of the Bible is part of the Torah and spells out the terms of the Mosaic covenant between God and His people, the Jews. Failure to meet these requirements meant death, not only to the body but to the soul.

The story of the Old Testament Jews is like that “no cookies after dinner” problem. Once the Law was given, the people gave themselves over to legalism in the extreme. When they came upon a lost or wounded animal that needed to be rescued on the Sabbath, they had to leave it and hope that it didn’t die before the next day. If it was time to give the tithe to the Lord, they had to then go and divide out the first tenth of not only the flocks, but also the produce, herbs, cash, and children, giving them over to God as an offering.

Today, we are no different.

Today, we still take the Law, the thing God intended for our benefit and His glory and worship it instead of Him.

Today, we enslave ourselves to the obedience of every last parenting/dieting/nonviolence/exercise rule we see.

But the story doesn’t end here. Some of us have evolved and moved on from such archaic requirements. Some of us have read scripture and know that we have something the Jews living under the Old Covenant never did; for us, the Law has been fulfilled. For us, there is a New Covenant between God and Man where Jesus, having fulfilled the Law through his crucifixion and resurrection, has removed from us consequence of breaking the Law.

If the consequence for breaking the law has been removed, are we now free to do as we please?

One of the biggest criticisms of Christianity is that Christians are hypocrites. We claim to hold to a higher way and yet often show that we are no different from our neighbor, neither in act or deed. This is a fair criticism, which we have earned.

Many (probably all) Christians have at some point or another wrestled with the question of what to do with the Law. Since the Gospel is that Christ has fulfilled the Law on our behalf, we now get to experience freedom from the burden that it represents. So, to exercise our freedom, we run headlong in the opposite direction of the Law. Believing that the Law no longer holds any significant weight, we scrap it and divorce ourselves from its code. This is what the scholars call “Antinomianism.”

antinomian. 1 : one who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.

In other words, someone who thinks that they can do whatever they want because they’ve been saved by faith and grace covers all sins is an antinomian. Unfortunately for the believer, this too is a wrong response to the Gospel. Scholars in the past have reasoned that both the Legalist and the Antinomian both suffer from a wrong relationship with the Law. Indeed, both are still a slave to it. Jesus explains this to us in his Sermon on the Mount:

17 “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20 CSB

Jesus’ statement about the Law paints a hard picture. You see, the Pharisees and the scribes knew the Law. They knew every letter and pen scratch making up the Law and could run circles around the rest of their Jewish brothers when it came to living it out. If the Pharisees were the epitome of legalism and Jesus tells them off multiple times for it, then we don’t want to be like them! But we don’t want to be antinomians either! What is a Christian to do? Are we supposed to keep the Law or not??

In my next post, I will discuss a right relationship with the Law and how Christians today should relate to it.

 

Bones of Fire

Several years ago, I worked for a summer camp as a counselor. At the start of the season, all the counselors moved in early for orientation and training. Everyone got introduced to each other and we filled out our counselor biographies. One thing I remember vividly about the biographies was one of the other counselor’s answer to the question “If you had a super power, what would it be?” Traditional powers like flying and invisibility were considered taboo so you had to get creative with your answers. While other counselors were shooting root beer out of their fingers, this guy wanted to have “Bones of Fire”.

For anonymity, we’ll call this guy “John”. I had met him at at school before in my freshman chemistry class and knew he was a Christian. At any university, not every Christian hangs out with every other Christian but we all know each other through the grapevine. John had gotten into a car accident a few months earlier and it turned out to be a really bad wreck. He ended up having to have a lot of bones put back together and back into the right places. We all heard about John’s wreck and the word to pray for his healing went quickly through the community. Fortunately, he was able to recover enough in time to work that summer.

Naturally, when John said his super power would be Bones of Fire, I assumed he was making some kind of thinly veiled comment about the long term discomfort and pain that comes with crushed bones. What I, and probably many of the other counselors, didn’t understand at the time was that this was a deeply theological reference. During my time as a camp counselor, this comment on bones of fire didn’t have a profound effect on me but it did stick in my mind for its strangeness.

Parallel to this season, I had committed myself to reading the whole Bible. It wasn’t until a few months after the summer was over that I came across this piece of scripture:

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah‬ ‭20:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When I laid my eyes on that for the first time, it was like a bolt of lightning struck me with understanding. You see, John had neatly sidestepped the conversation about silly super powers and brought the thunder with a real one.

The book of Jeremiah, where this verse is located, was written by a young man the Lord called to service. He wasn’t great and he had no love for public speaking. Often, he was known for crying in public, coming to be known as the “weeping prophet.” On the charisma scale, this guy had probably a 2 out of 10. He did have one thing, though, that all of the other prophets did not: he had the word of the Lord.

Now, in those days, the Bible had not been completed and prophetic words and signs were useful to God as a way to warn His people and to reclaim their attention from false gods. Unfortunately for the prophetic messenger, these words of God were rarely well received and often ignored. The messenger usually ended up being tortured, punished, or killed for speaking them. While all the other prophets were busy spreading false words from false gods, Jeremiah was hearing from the Lord. God knew of the sinfulness and hatred that would come against Jeremiah and warned him that this would happen.

“And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.”” Jeremiah‬ ‭1:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Today, fortunately, we have the completed Bible. All of the works of the prophets have come to pass. The Lamb of God, that the is the Christ who was prophesied to be slain, has been slain and resurrected. The good news of the Gospel has been preached and explained and written down. And, the final revelation has been given to us so that we can know and be prepared for the day which is still to come, the great day of the Lord.

But here’s my point… when you read the Bible, you are consuming the Word of God. Today, we no longer have to receive signs and visions to know what God says because we have access to the Word of God itself. (You can read about why we can trust the Bible as the word of God here). As you study what God says and spend time with Him in prayer and meditation, you’ll grow deeper in your faith and understanding. You’ll begin to find that your thoughts start to shift more and more towards the eternal things and the mysteries of God. You’ll really start to understand that God redeeming us even when we didn’t deserve anything but hell is the best news that could ever be given. You’ll start to feel like you need to tell someone about it. After a while, your faith will become like a fire, shut up in your bones.

I didn’t understand what having bones of fire meant back then. I don’t really think it’s a super power either. When it comes down to it, though, I can only hope that the fire continues to burn and that I don’t try to hide it within me, lest it burn me up. I hope the same for you as well. May we all have Bones of Fire.

If the Bible has been translated so many times, how can we even trust it?

Some faith traditions believe that any translation of the holy scripture strips it of its credibility. The belief is that only the words in their original form can possibly be holy, carrying their full divine message. Unlike other religions, Christians believe that their holy text can be translated from its original language without losing its inerrancy. This belief relies on the message remaining intact in spite of the actual, textual words used. With this stipulation in mind, translators have worked for centuries doing their best to work out the true essence of the original writings of scripture and put them into words that can be understood by the next generation.

A short history of the Bible

What many English speakers don’t understand is that their copy of the Bible is 100% translated text. The Bible is not simply a book, rather it’s a library, made up of several books, all written in different languages by different authors. Excluding the Apocrypha, the Bible is made up of 66 books written over hundreds of years in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Over time, the Bible was translated into Latin and was primarily read in this language up until the Middle Ages. Even though Latin fell from the lips of men as a spoken and written language, the Bible remained only in this language. This made it accessible to just the Roman Catholic clergy because they were the only ones who could speak and read it.

Unfortunately for believers everywhere, this was a bad thing. Since only a few had access to and knowledge of the Word of God, the Word became hidden from man. Eventually, through the efforts of people like Erasmus, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, and others, the Bible was translated into updated Latin and later to common German and eventually English. These men felt that not only can the Bible be translated into other languages, it must be. If every tribe, tongue, and nation will be represented in heaven and salvation comes through hearing the Word, then clearly God intended for his message to go out to the ends of the earth in everyday language.

Considerations in translation

What these scholars learned in translating the Bible is that words have a tricky way of meaning multiple things. Also, when moving across languages, sometimes a word exists in one where an entire phrase would be needed to communicate the same idea in the other. This can leave the translator with a serious problem. Should they try to be as precise as possible in the actual definition of the words or should they try to communicate the message in an understandable way that is more like the way people speak? Also, what happens in one or two hundred years when the way people speak has changed so much that your translation sounds old and nobody wants to read it?

The answers to these questions lead us to the point we’re at today in America. There is a list of English Bible translations as long as my arm, each rooted in the original manuscripts. Thanks to biblical scholars working hard to keep up with modern language, we can read God’s Word comfortably and breathe in the richness of the story without having to get a doctorate in Ancient Greek or Hebrew.

But can you trust them?

One thing that would worry me is something I will call “translation creep”. If you translate a text from one language and then to another and then again, all using the previous version as the base for translation, you will eventually get to a point where the text no longer resembles the original writing. Think of this like a centuries long game of telephone. Fortunately, this is not what happens in biblical translation. Instead, the Bible has continually been re-translated from the same original texts and manuscripts, preventing it from experiencing translation creep.

Additionally, there are millions of copies of the Bible in existence today, and the side by side comparison between translations is often more like seeing two ways to say the same thing. This makes it extremely difficult to mislead people through tampering or misinformation within the text. Since a simple cross reference is within reach, tampering would be hard to get away with over a long period of time or across a wide range of people. If someone really wanted to mislead people about Christianity, the easiest way would be to get them to ignore the Bible altogether.

For this reason, I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Bible and read it. Read it for pleasure. Study it for understanding. Neglecting to read scripture is the first step in forgetting who God is. Reading it is the first step to gaining wisdom.

Appendix: A short guide to choosing which translation to read

With so many versions out there, it’s helpful to understand what some of them are before deciding which one to pick up. Fortunately, the variety of methods for translation has led to some incredibly useful and captivating translations of scripture. Reading multiple translations of the same text can lead to much greater levels of understanding. Even paraphrases like The Message Bible (MSG) can be useful from time to time when the soul of a piece of text eludes you.

The most popular, and my wife’s favorite, translation is the New International Version (NIV). This translation is well rounded, with a very even blend of word for word literal translation and more commonly spoken words and phrases.

The King James Version (KJV), formerly the most popular bible in america, is the classic translation most people think of when the think about Christianity. This translation was commissioned in the 1600’s by King James and was modeled after Shakespearean English. It was intended to be a very elegant and accurate translation and it achieved that. However, it’s not easy for us to read today and comprehension is difficult.

My personal favorite is the New Living Translation (NLT). This version is a little bit lighter on the direct literal translation and a little heavier on the essential (essence) translation. This really makes the poetry of the Bible come alive.

My second favorite is the English Standard Version (ESV). This version was intended to be as word for word literal as possible. I find this version very useful for study and it was the translation I used the first time I read all the way through the Bible.

Recently, the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) was updated again to become the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). Both are excellent choices and take a strong stab at literal translation with an eye to commonly spoken English. If you want a more readable version, go with the CSB. This edition came out in the last year and is among the most modern translations of Christian text.

If you really want to have some fun, The Scripture 2009 (TS2009) doesn’t try to decide between literal and essential translation. Where certain words don’t exist in English, this version leaves them in their original form! If you’ve ever wanted to do a word study or wanted to feel like a scholar, then this translation is for you. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to read for comprehension.

There are still others, I could go on. But the point is, the Bible is still alive today with updates being made as scholars and scientists discover more corroborating ancient texts or errors made in translations of the past.

 

Hope Restored: Stop Trying to Earn Your Gifts.

This week, we have our first guest post! I asked my wife to add her thoughts and and experiences to this blog and she came through with a great post on Romans 6:23.

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My parents didn’t buy me a lot of the Christian stuff that other Christian kids’ parents did. Other kids got things like Veggie Tales videos, creepy Precious Moments dolls, and Jump5 and Mercy Me CDs. One of the few things my parents did get was a series of cassette tapes called GT and the Halo Express. GT and the Halo Express put Bible verses to song for easy memorization for kids. My family listened to those tapes every time we got in the car to go somewhere.

I had forgotten about good ole GT until recently when I started to actively memorize and bring to mind Scripture. I found that a lot of the verses I remembered were the ones I sang along to in my mom’s car! The one that stood out to me the most was “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It would get stuck in my head for HOURS, like American Pie or the Song That Doesn’t End (thanks Lamp Chop). But until last year, I had never really understood what the verse itself meant.

I always understood the second part about the gift of God being eternal life, but the first part about wages and death… geez, who talks like that? It wasn’t until I really started breaking down what the verse meant that I understood the gravity of the statement and how the sum of the gospel is held in the juxtaposition of its two simple phrases.

“For the wages of sin is death”

When you hear the word wages, it’s always in relation to how much money someone is paid, like the federal minimum wage. A wage is something you earn – you’ve spent the time, you did the work, you earned your payment.

In the context of this verse, the work we’re putting in is sin. The bad news is that sin isn’t just the bad things that we do. Sin is what separates us from God and includes anything against the moral character of God. By being human, we all have sin in our very nature. We can’t help but be separated from God and do things that continue to separate us from God.

We are paid a wage for the work we do against God, and that payment comes in death. It reminds me of Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are in the garden and God tells them they can eat from any tree except that one.

Then they go and hang out by that tree (bad idea) and the serpent comes along and is just like, “why aren’t you eating from the tree? it’s soooooooooo good.”

Eve is all like, “no we can’t, cause God said we would die if we did,”

Then the serpent is just like, “you won’t DIE! Just do it. You know you want to…”

Eve ate from the tree and gave it to Adam and he did too. But the serpent is a LIAR because they did die.

A bunch of other stuff happened first, like getting kicked out of Eden and God committing the first sacrifice (which is an altogether different story that’s super cool) and clothing them and getting them set up on some land. But then they died. Adam and Eve aren’t walking around now, are they? And everyone else that came after them died and everyone that’s alive now will die and everyone that is born in the future will die. I will die. You will die. We will all die, and it’s because of sin.

But we were not created to die. We were created to live in the garden in perfect communion with God, walking with him, talking with him, having a relationship with him. But because of Adam’s and Eve’s departure from God in their sin, they died. Now we, who are separated from God in our sin, will also die.

This is bad news.

“but”

It’s so sweet that there’s a but at the end of the bad news statement. That God loves us so much that he added a “but” and made a plan to rescue us. Because he’s God, and, again, he did not create us to die. He did not create us to be separated from him. In our present state, though, we were separated and we were going to die and continue to be separated from him. In his infinite goodness and love for us, he added a “but.”

“the gift of God is eternal life”

Gifts are not earned. They are not deserved. They are given freely and out of affection for a loved one. Even though, in our American culture, we put together birthday and Christmas lists so people can get us what we want, gifts can’t really be assumed or expected to be received because they were not earned. If you worked for it, you were really just paid a wage. If you didn’t, you were rewarded with a gift.

The gift we receive is from God. He crossed the chasm of sin that separated us from him and offered us rescue. Only he has the power to offer it to us. Again, it’s a gift. We cannot earn it. We can only accept it.

Eternal life is the gift that God gives us. Our bodies, because they are in their very nature sinful, will still pass away, but our souls, our inmost beings, will live forever in communion with God. This is GOOD NEWS! Death is not the end for us! We do not have to live forever in the shame, sadness, or darkness that comes from being separated from our creator! The feeling that’s within each one of us, the one that says something isn’t quite right and this isn’t the way things are supposed to be, will go away because everything will be put right. We will return to the way they were created to be. Eternal life means freedom, restoration, and regeneration.

“in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s important to note, though, that gifts can be given but not accepted.

For example, let’s say you’re hanging out at your apartment and it’s Saturday morning and you’re laying in bed not wanting to get up for the day. It’s a nice day and you can see the sun is shining and the sky is blue, and it’d be the perfect day to go for a drive. Only thing is that you have a super crappy car. Like, such a beater that you’re not sure you can even get it to the Walmart down the street later to get some groceries and even if you did you’re so embarrassed by the car cancer on top you don’t even want to!

Now for a bit of dramatic irony: your friend just won the Powerball. They took the lump sum and paid their taxes and built an offshore shell account and did everything responsible they were supposed to do first. Now they’re giving people stuff because they’re flush with cash, and they’re very loving.

Knowing your crappy car situation, your newly rich friend went out and bought you a brand new, shiny, fully-loaded vehicle and have it parked outside your apartment building now ready to give to you! But you don’t know this because you’re in bed feeling sorry for yourself. You get a text from them saying to come outside.

You’re like “nah I’m in bed ugh.”

They text you back and say, “for real, come outside I have something for you.”

And you’re like, “I’m not getting out of bed for anything right now.”

And they text you back and call you and start to get really urgent but you will not come outside. They come and knock on your door and call out to you but you just ignore them and finally send them a “new phone who dis” text.

So they got you a gift – but you never came out to accept it. If you don’t come out to receive your gift, you never get to enjoy the benefits of it.

Accepting the gift of eternal life comes through believing that Jesus, who is God’s son, ultimately paid the price for that gift with his own life. Jesus was both God and man. He was perfect and sinless as well as subject to the same sinful nature you and I have. Because of this, his death was the only death that could be the final payment for the death that we have all earned. He took death on for himself so that we don’t have to. He destroyed the power it held over us when he came back to life three days later. He broke the chains that bind all of us so we can live in freedom.

This is truly good news! That we could believe that God gave his son, Jesus, to take away the sins of the world to live in relationship with us. We cannot earn this relationship and we do not deserve to receive the gift of eternal life, but we can receive it when we accept it. Come out from the darkness of the pit of despair and shame you’re living in, and accept the gift of light and life fully restored to God.